Christmas is almost here. We (okay, honestly…my wife) has wrapped a lot of the presents. I think we’re done shopping for gifts. The Christmas Eve message is completed. Now…the wait. I think this is the hardest thing in life. I can be so impatient. Waiting is never easy and yet I think it’s a critical piece in the Christmas story. The children of Israel had been told a Messiah would be coming…and they had to wait hundreds of years. Mary and Joseph were told they were to have a baby…and they waited 9 months. And when the Messiah had been born…He wasn’t born ready to go. He was born and all those who knew who He was had to…wait. Waiting is the hardest thing to do, but it’s a critical part of Christmas.
This Christmas I keep waiting for answers to questions that I have and it seems like the answers don’t come quick enough for me and know more than ever I’m learning that I have to wait. There is something to be learned about the one that we celebrate this Christmas when we learn how to wait. So tonight I will restlessly sleep looking forward to tomorrow night services and while one waits is over…there will be more. Because the answer is not what is our ultimate goal. Instead we are on a quest for hope that will not disappoint. And Paul tells us in Romans 5 that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character HOPE. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
So this Christmas I am praying for Hope and I know to experience it that I will have to wait through situations and experiences I would rather not go through. But I know there is a purpose, even if I don’t know what the purpose is. And I know that I will be able to endure it because I have been given the Holy Spirit. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. I will be praying for you all too, as you wait…through the challenging times…and through it all…may you find HOPE in Christ!
Well, I’m trying to journal this week my thoughts as I walk towards our Christmas Eve service. This time of the year is really my favorite time of all. I’m hoping that through this process it will allow those that read this, to see inside my head a little (that’s a scary thought). What I discovered today is this…I woke up and went to work. The sun came up (I think? I do live in West Michigan where winters are pretty dismal.) And I was given another day. Another day to wallow in my sadness littered with questions or another day to be used by God to impact the world that He loves so much with all that He has entrusted me with.
I chose to impact the world today.
Now before you think that I did something grand, I didn’t. I woke up and checked the status of the remaining gifts that are still to be delivered. I spent some time praying with friends and praying for friends. I mindlessly checked the news. And then I began to work. I began the process of reading and praying, praying and reading. Listening to what I believe to be the Spirit of God within me aligning my thoughts with His. I took time and had lunch with a good friend. I would love to think that my conversation impacted him, but I know it had a more profound impact on me. But I chose to impact the world and not be lost in the sorrows of the world. I chose to impact the world and make it a little better off then how I found it. I chose to see if there was a person in line that needed a smile…and freely gave. I chose to listen to others share the pain of the world that they are living within instead of feeling the need to compare and discover who has it worse. I chose to take a moment and read something that I knew would encourage me and inspire me to something better. I chose to impact the world with the best that God has entrusted me with today. And because of this…I know that tomorrow will be another day. Another day that I will need to make a decision on how I will live. But I know that as I have chosen today…it has been a better day because I chose to impact the world with all that God has given me…I hope you can choose the same.
Really, when you think about the Christmas message this is what it is about. It is about Jesus, fully God, choosing to impact the world. To impact it in a way that many failed to see. He chose to impact it in a way that most would be unable to understand. But He chose to impact it…so that we would have another day! Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement as I continue my journey tomorrow!
The rush towards Christmas has begun. We are no longer counting the months or weeks we have begun the countdown in hours and minutes. Christmas is almost here! And yet as I look outside and it’s raining…it doesn’t feel like Christmas. As I prepare for the Christmas Eve service at Hope and my friend who is also our worship pastor sits in a hospital bed, unable to be a part of the planning…again it doesn’t feel much like Christmas.
It makes you ask…what is Christmas supposed to “feel” like?
This year I struggle to come up with Christmas present ideas for myself or for other people. I haven’t felt in the receiving or giving mood. It causes me to wonder what is Christmas supposed to “feel” like? Is it supposed to be joy when you get the perfect gift to give someone that you love? Is it supposed to be peace when you have completed dispersing all of the Christmas cookies or cards? I’m not exactly sure what the feeling is but this year I am void of many of these feelings. Instead, I’m overwhelmed with questions that I am not sure will have answers.
I wonder if the Christmas “feeling” is being okay with questions when there are no answers?
It allows me to go back to the original Christmas experience. Jesus, fully God, being born in a manger. Being fully human. The future was filled with questions of who was to follow this helpless leader. It included certain pain that was necessary for our future. It would include being hungry, tired, sad. It would include so much more than how we’ve sometimes simplified it all to be in our nice…neat…songs. I wonder if as I rush into the Christmas experience if I’m trying to simplify my emotions instead of allowing them to be filled with fullness. I wonder if this Christmas it will be okay to have sadness mirrored with laughter? For questions to be lined with answers? For anger to be enveloped by love? For doubt to be saturated with peace? I wonder if it is okay, this Christmas, to not search for a nice and neat box that can fit under a Christmas tree but instead for it to be messy. Complicated. Indescribable. I wonder if instead of looking for a “feeling” I will be able to discover meaning?
I know the answers to the questions that I internally ask this Christmas, but I will still be asking.
Questions that may not have answers that I like, but questions that must be asked…as I try and understand the depth of what Christmas is truly about. It will most certainly not be simple and it will not be neat. It will be messy and complicated…but I think…that’s what Christmas really is…and we’ve tried to make it something…different.
I’ve got more to learn this week and will be trying…to be honest through it all.
There are a lot of times that I will be watching a movie with my children and a scary scene causes them to pull in tight to me (I have a couple older children that don’t do this anymore…but the younger two do). These moments are really one of my favorite times. Not because my children are afraid but because they come running to me to offer protection and to offer them words of hope. Often times my words of encouragement are, “We know how it ends…everything will be okay. We know that the main character will survive.” I think that telling them this helps them either endure the scene or gives them hope to keep watching. There are times though that the fear grips my children so tightly that they can’t take their eyes off what has made them afraid…and their frozen in fear. I have to get up…and hold them…hug them…calm them. In the end they are alway calm but the second scenario has filled their life with unnecessary fear.
Life is very similar. We are bombarded with scary situations it seems like on a regular basis…and as followers of Christ we often run into our loving Father’s arms and he pulls us tight into Him. He loves this…not that we’re afraid but He loves that we run to Him when there is something that is scaring us. He loves that we run to Him instead of running away from Him or being held captive by our fears…unable to move. And I believe He says the same thing that I say to my children, “We know how it ends…everything will be okay. We know that Jesus survived…and because He survived there is nothing that will overcome us….it will be okay.” Even as I type these words I can hear his calming voice speaking this to me…”It will be okay” and I feel better already. And I don’t think these are words that we should take lightly. These are words that should change how we live…and how we react to all situations in life. These are words that should encourage us to brave the darkness of the World bringing it the light they so desperately desire. These words should give us hope that even though things look bleak…there are still better days ahead.
We know how all of this ends. While it appears that there is nothing good that can come from all that is happening…we know how it ends. There is hope for a broken world and for broken individuals. There is hope because we know how it ends. And because of that we should be running not walking…to share the story’s ending with everyone we meet because they need hope to face tomorrow too.
Most mornings I get to take my children to school. Once everyone is in the car and we are on the way it is one of my favorite times of the day. We play a “game” called “The Thanksgiving Train”. We simply go around in the car and share what we are thankful for. There are some mornings where the train is a little slow getting out of the station but by the time we get to school everyone is thankful for something (even if it is getting out of the car filled with thankful people…it is something).
Thanksgiving is contagious and we should really be spreading it more often.
It got me thinking…”Have I shared the things that I am thankful about Hope? Have I shared what I am excited about?” I know that I do share with many people the things that I am thankful about…but what about to everyone? So here goes.
- I am thankful for our worship time at Hope. I was sharing with new members yesterday about the past, present and future Hope and the group that was there could not wrap their minds around what worship was like…before. They only know “now”. And it made me realize that I need to express my thanksgiving for Dana, our worship leader, and the worship team that she leads more often.
- I am thankful for the transformation of our children and youth programs. My wife comes home on Sundays filled with so much energy because of the amount of children that are now a part of what God is doing at Hope. And the transformation is not limited to the programs–it includes the lives of the children that are being transformed. Yesterday in the New Members Class there were 3 youth that were in the class. The first person to share their testimony was a 12-year-old youth-her life has been transformed. There was a parent of an elementary school child who wanted to sleep in yesterday…but her daughter woke her up and said, “I will make the coffee…get up so we can go to church.” Lives…generations are being transformed and I am excited!
- I am excited as we look back at our past we are gaining momentum towards the future. Many times we get entangled with our past and we are unable to move forward…but at Hope our future of reaching children and families in our community is propelling us ahead! I cannot wait to see the future that God has as we stay true to what Hope was intended to be!
- I am excited and thankful that as we stay true to who we are supposed to be, reaching children and families in our community, that we are reaching the grandparents, too. As we have worked to engage the younger families we have people who are older that are stepping up and engaging the youth, too. I love it! (If you cannot tell I really love my church!) We are not a one generation church…God is reaching more generations than I am even aware of.
- I am excited that as we focus on our history of reaching the families of Grand Haven and Robinson Township that God is expanding His reach through Hope too. Instead of our influence getting smaller God is causing His influence to grow greater!
- I am excited about leaders who take their job seriously. There are leaders that know that they are supposed to pray and seek the face of God on behalf of the people here at Hope…and they do it! It is not about being a leader in title only. They are leaders on every account and it is fun to run with them!
These are just a few of the things that I am excited about…I could go on forever (really…I think I could if I had the time to). I love what I get to do here at Hope and I am looking forward to what God is going to do next! I know that our history is a rich history of trusting God to do amazing things and I know that our future will involve the same things! I am excited!
To be honest, I did not know what to write about today. As I was sitting…thinking…what should I write I began to think about the things that need to happen tomorrow…and then the next day…and I had to ask…”Is it okay to be busy?”
I think when we typically ask questions we are already aware of the answer. We probably do not want to hear the answer but we know it. As I have sat and thought about the question I think it really begs another question before it can be answered. “Why am I busy?” This question creates a handful of potential answers. Am I busy because I have not worked in a very wise way? Have I put off until tomorrow what I could be doing today? The answer to these questions are easier questions to answer and even easier questions to fix. Instead of being behind with your work…maybe you should stop reading this blog. No really-if it is keeping you from doing what you are supposed to be doing STOP READING NOW! Some of you are going to be late getting home or you are not going to focus on your family because you are reading this…STOP IT!
A tougher question that you must ask if you are feeling like you are too busy is this. Are you busy because you think you are the only one that can do what you are doing? Some of us (especially in the “church world”) are so busy because we are trying to help people understand that Jesus is the answer to all their problems…but we want to make sure they know we can help too. It is silly. We look at programs and ministries and think that they will “DIE” if we are somehow not involved in them. The people, the youth, the children do not need you! As hard as that sounds it is necessary to hear. I learned that as I spent two weeks on vacation. I missed being at work and I hope that I was missed…but no one “needed” me. They need Jesus, plain and simple and the sooner we get that the less busy (and possessive) we are.
Are you too busy? Some of you are so busy worrying about other people too. I think this is another thing that is easy to see is wrong but difficult to fix. We look around at all of the problems in the world and we think that we need to cary the load of these problems personally. We see injustices taking place (serious crimes like someone not dressing appropriately or singing accurately or saying something correctly) and we take it upon ourselves to personally fix the problem. And because we are fixing something that really is not our problem to fix in the first place we become too busy and do not do the things that we should be doing ourselves.
Again as I think through the excuses (and many of them I can use) as to why we are too busy none are really justified. One that I think is used often and is not justifiable either is that we stay busy so that we do not have to address any of the real problems that we have. If we stay busy we do not have to “feel”. If we stay busy we do not have to “think”. If we stay busy we do not have to allow ourselves to be “fixed”. It is quiet simply easier to be busy. But the question that really needs to be asked as we inch closer to New Years is what are we going to do about it? Are we willing to really look at more then the reality that we are busy but maybe better yet…why?
I enjoy playing games with my wife. One game that we do not play well together is Monopoly-We actually have enjoyed playing it again on my iPad. There was a time when we did not play Monopoly though. I became some ruthless, uncaring person when we did. I could not wait to have her spend all of her money paying off rent on my hotels. But the thing I loved was the big “Go” sign on the board. You knew where you started. Everything on the board was based off of the “starting” point on the board. You were rewarded when you returned to the “start” almost every time.
We all have a “starting” point. We call the “start” the foundation of truth. Even people who claim there is no truth in the world around us still begin there as a starting point. For some people the “start” is whatever life experience they have been through. Their view of everyone is tainted based on these experiences. For others the “starting” point is “what will it cost me?” Everything that they do after that is dictated on the “start” and the “cost”. Others find the “starting” point to be where will this lead me. “If I do this I will get that.” What I have found as I have tried to discover the starting point in my life is that all of the things that I have mentioned so far continue to shift and change. My view of the world will not be the same today as it is tomorrow…therefore the starting line is constantly changing. I cannot predict what I should do tomorrow yet. I need to wait for my “experiences” to catch up to the reality of my life today.
The “start” for my entire life is found in the Bible–the Word of God. Every week at Hope we begin our services by everyone holding a Bible up, either the one that they brought from home or one that is located in the seat in front of them, and then we say together, “This is the Word of God, and I believe what It says is true.” We start here. Everything that we do is based on this foundation. And it never changes. Now I realize that many people can look at one verse and interpret it differently but we know we have somewhere to return to as our “starting” point and it never changes.
I have discovered that many people do not like or agree with the starting point that I have…I am okay with that. At least they are aware of where I base all of my life off of. I will come into every situation that I face knowing that I have to begin somewhere…and for me (and I think it should be for everyone) it is the Word of God…because I believe it to be true.